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WVU Can Lead Discussion of Moving State Forward

Freedom of expression and the exchange of ideas is a concept of which I have been a proponent for many years. This basic tenant is at the very core of an academic institution. However, many institutions of higher education find themselves being challenged on the request to limit free speech to the opinions found to be socially acceptable.

I believe it is our responsibility at West Virginia University to provide the space to share ideas that differ from our own. We must encourage civil conversations on issues that matter. Without the ability to challenge the status quo, discuss new ideas and create diverse options, we lose the opportunity for real growth and real change.

It is important that we hold such conversations on our college campuses. But it is equally important we hold such candid conversations in our communities.

Just as the University is faced with many challenges, so is West Virginia. In my State of the University address this past week, I spoke of the need to transform our University. We need to bust through bureaucracy, change the way we do things and be open to new ideas and entrepreneurial innovations. I shared my vision of focusing on education, health care and prosperity. And I truly believe we can make a difference if we focus on the question, “For what purpose?”

Which leads me to ponder, “For what purpose does West Virginia University exist?” It goes without saying we are here for our students. Our goal is to provide a world-class education to the students who enroll at our institution.

Our second goal is to improve the health of our state. Without a healthy population, we cannot have a strong and happy workforce. That is why we are working so closely with partners statewide to bring assistance and ideas on how to best treat the opioid addiction that is crippling our country.

And our third critical goal is to bring prosperity to all 1.8 million West Virginians. To do that, we will need to commit to doing things differently. We will need to ask the hard questions and put forth the unpopular suggestions. One of the main drivers behind our new Rockefeller School for Policy and Politics is to amplify our ability to assist West Virginia leaders in identifying and pursuing opportunities to change our state.

We, as a University, need to fundamentally change the arc of higher education. We cannot do that without changing the arc of Pre-K through 12 education. And we cannot do that alone.

Under the leadership of WVU Provost Joyce McConnell and Gypsy Denzine, dean of the College of Education and Human Services, we have formed the West Virginia Public Education Collaborative. Our goal is to serve as a catalyst and think tank for in-depth analysis and the development of new initiatives designed to give the next generation of West Virginians the best opportunity to succeed in life. By facilitating the discussion, we can begin to affect real change for our children and their futures.

And our Bureau for Business and Economic Research continues to work at providing economic analysis and thought leadership along a number of dimensions. For example, BBER researchers are working on improving the efficiency of our local governments, most recently focusing on local health departments.

The options for change before our state are many. However, the easy choices are few. We will need to work together examining issues, performing our due diligence and understanding the consequences of our choices.

However, I believe our role as a University is to facilitate dialogue. West Virginians have the will and the desire to transform our state. Now we just need the grit and determination to work together as partners to tackle the job and get it done.

At West Virginia University, we want to provide the space to talk about new ideas for efficiency and effectiveness. Just as our flood-ravaged communities now have the opportunity to reimagine themselves, so should the state. We must constantly be asking how we can move the needle and “for what purpose” are we moving — or not moving it.

When it comes to developing new ideas and never-before tried solutions, West Virginia University stands ready to be a good partner. We want to add value to the governmental and community leaders, who we know all have a desire to move our state forward. We do not have all the answers, but we do have a willingness to ask the hard questions and help find the right answers.

Though discourse and differing opinions may occur, it is a far better to debate and disagree than to have never had the discussion at all.

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